Live Like a King.
Part of the fun of visiting Rajasthan is seeking out its castles and palaces.These properties fuse modern conveniences and five star dining with historic ambience. Who could resist a royal pampering fit for a king?
Day 1: Arrival in Delhi. Transfer to Hotel Maidens.
Day 2: Delhi (B, D)
Breakfast at hotel with introductions and orientation. Afternoon:Sightseeing tour of Old and New Delhi, including Red Fort, Gates of India, Qutab Minar, and a rikshaw ride through the market in Old Delhi. Welcome dinner at a North Indian Restaurant.
Day 3: Drive Delhi-Mandawa-Nawalgarah (Shekhawati) (280 kms / 5-6 hrs) (B,D)
Shekhawati is a semi-desert region in north Rajasthan and is situated in the triangle between Delhi-Bikaner-Jaipur. It takes its name after its ruler Rao Shekha. Shekhawati means the garden of Shekha.The towns of Shekhawati are known for their amazing painted havelis. This region is dubbed the ‘open art gallery of Rajasthan” for its plethora of painted havelis in rich artistic tradition. Most of the buildings are dated from the 18th century to early 20th century.
The Shekhawati landscape is dotted with so many havelis that tracking them is something like a treasure hunt. Various forms of fine art adorn the walls and the ceilings of these structures, complimenting the otherwise flat and barren land. The havelis are noted for their frescos depicting mythological themes and that of huge animals. Some later-day frescos show the arrival of the British and highlight steam locomotives and trains, probably for the benefit of those members of the household who did not want to travel to distance places by train or see this newly introduced mode of transport. Nawalgarh, founded in the 18th century by Nawal Singh, has some of the finest frescos in the Shekhawati region.
A huge fort with a colorful bazaar and numerous havelis with elaborate architecture makes it an interesting destination.
We will visit some of the prominent havelis such as Anandilal Poddar Haveli, Aath Haveli and Hodh Raj Patodia Haveli. Founded in the mid-18th century, Mandawa’s skyline today is dominated by an imposing mirage-like fort, now a heritage hotel that is maintained in classic medieval themes with modern facilities. The archway is painted with interesting forms of paintings of Lord Krishna and his cow herds. The sprawling architecture houses a different theme in different wings. The spacious rooms are adorned by intricate interior wall paintings and mirror work with an open terrace that offers a panoramic view of the whole town. The women folk of the Mandawa family, who lived in a royal style, once used this floor. The ambiences of those years still linger around the rooms. The Mandawa family has a unique collection of their preserved paintings and antiques that adorn the main huge hall in the center of the castle, originally the durbar hall and now an exotic lounge. The ceremonial costumes of the family collection and the precious arms with handles of jade and beautiful curios brought by the British as a gift for the nobles are well placed like the showcase of a museum. The hotel is well equipped with modern facilities in an ethnic set-up. A night stay is an experience in itself with thematic evenings and medieval cuisine. Visit Nawalgarh & Mandawa including old painted havelis. Overnight at Mandawa Castle.
Day 4: Nawalgarth-Bikaner (200 kms / 4 hrs) Laxmi Niwas Palace (B)
Lying in the north of the desert state, the city is dotted with scores of sand dunes. Bikaner retains the medieval grandeur that permeates the city’s lifestyle. More readily called camel country, the city is distinguished for the best riding camels in the world. We will visit Bikaner and The Junagarah Fort and stay in the Laxmi Niwas Palace Hotel.
Day 5: Early morning drive Bikaner-Jaisalmer (325kms / 6 hrs) Gorbandh Palace (B,L)
We’ll stop for a picnic lunch at Khichan, a lovely village with superb red sandstone havelies belonging to the Oswal Jains. Just outside the village, hidden by sand dunes, is a lake full of cranes. This is a natural sanctuary for the kurjan bird. This bird migrates to Southwestern Europe, the Black Sea, Poland, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, North and South Africa and Mongolia. In India, this bird is known as kurjan, karkara and kunch. When Europe’s cold winter becomes intolerable, these birds migrate to India. It survives on insects, frogs, fish, wheat, barley and other seeds. While flying it makes lot of noise and sounds like kurr-kurr, thus it is known as the kurjan. The bird has a great affinity towards the Indian subcontinent and occupies a massive area for its stay, transforming this area into a bird sanctuary.Jaisalmer is straight out of an Arabian Nights fable. The name Jaisalmer induces a dramatic picture of magic and the brilliance of the desert for many people. The hostile terrain not with standing, the warmth and color of people is simply over whelming. One of the main draws is the daunting 12th century Jaisalmer Fort. The beautiful havelis which were built by wealthy merchants of Jaisalmer are yet another interesting aspect of the desert city. The desert citadel is truly a golden fantasy in the Thar Desert. Bhatti Rajput ruler Rawal Jaisal, after whom the city finds its name, founded Jaisalmer in 1156. On advice of a local hermit, Eesaal, he chose the Tricut Hills as his new abode, abandoning his vulnerable old fort at Luderwa just 16 kilometers northwest. In Medieval times, its prosperity was due to its location on the main trade route linking India to Egypt, Arabia, Persia, Africa and the West. The Bhatti Rajput rulers lined their coffers with gains from traditional taxes on passing caravans and sometimes through illicit gains by rustling cattle.
A late afternoon visit to Khuri village, in the desert 40km southwest of Jaiselmer. It’s a peaceful place with houses of mud and straw decorated like the patterns on Persian carpets. We will have a camel ride in the sand dunes just before sunset. Our hotel, an original palace, is a small, intimate 14 rooms heritage hotel done-up in period luxury. Gorbandh Palace or Fort Rajwada Palace Hotel.
Day 6: Jaisalmer (B)
Morning: tour of Jaisalmer, The Golden City of India, including ancient Jain Temples and the Fort. Sunset: visit Chatris.
Known as Sonar Quila or the Golden Fort, this mega structure rises from the sands and merges with the golden hues of the desert ambience and the setting sun in its most colorful shades, giving it a fairy tale look. The Fort envelopes the whole township that consists of the palace complex, the havelis of rich merchants, several temples and the residential complexes of the armies and traders placed strategically on the trade route from where the ancient caravans passed. These merchants acquired a great deal of power and noble status in the royal courts of the Bhatti Rajputs who founded the state in the 12th century.
The rich merchants, inspired by the classic style of the royals, constructed the huge havelis adjacent to each other in the nature of medieval culture and profusely decorated the walls and ceilings with intricately carved motifs. The craftsmen were usually Muslims who were induced on their journey to exhibit their skills. The results were architectural purity that cannot be seen elsewhere.
Day 7: Jaisalmer-Jodhpur (285 kms / 6 hrs) Ajit Bhawan (B)
This drive will take us into the heart of the Thar Desert all the way to Pokharan, the junction of Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Bikaner Road. A fort town, Pokran is renowned for its furniture and interior crafts. The Fort has an assortment of weaponry, brocade clothes and various games of dice and dominoes on display. Being mid-way, it is a nice place for a brief stop. The route is dotted by Bishnoi villages. Bishnoism, a religious movement, is devoted to eco-friendliness and wild life protection. One of the most progressive religions in the world, they follow a reference guide to live in complete harmony with their environment and establish a symbiotic relationship with nature.
Day 8: Jodhpur / Ajit Bawan (B)
Morning tour of Jodhpur, including the 15th century Mehrangarh Fort perched majestically on a high hill. Afternoon: independent to stroll the quaint village. The best way to trace the history of Jodhpur is to visit the Meherangarh Fort, which dominates the skyline. We enter through gates which bear the evocative handprints of the Sati queens, women of the royal harem who took their own lives when their men were defeated in battle. The fort has a series of spectacular palaces, each decorated with exquisite engravings, lattice and mirror work. Of particular note is the museum that exhibits a magnificent collection of royal memorabilia; we stop to admire the graceful cenotaph at Jaswant Thada. Optional visit to Umaid Bhawan for lunch (pay on their own) , entry fee is approx $25 credited to their lunch bill.
Afternoon: we browse the bazaars of the old city, for Jodhpur is well known for its glass bangles, puppets and other folk art. Ornate glass bangles with mirrors embedded and lacquer-finished can be found here. The area around the bazaars is a wonderful example of 19th century town planning, blending Rajasthani concepts with more contemporary styles.
Day 9: Drive Jodphur-Ranakpur-Udaipur (300 kms / 6 hrs) (B,L)
Laxmi Vilas Palace Enroute we visit the magnificent Ranakpur Jain Temples built in 1439 and dedicated to Adinath, the first Jain Tirthankar. The three temples in the complex each are distinct in design, with carved ceilings and arches decorated with friezes depicting scenes from the lives of the Jain saints. The largest, Adinatha, is noted for its grandiose scale and elaborate ornamentation and for its 1444 sculptured pillars, all with different scenes from Jain mythology and cosmology. The temples are situated in the Haldigathi Jungle where monkeys, wild boars and panthers are dwelling as well as exotic trees such as cinnamon apple and babur maple. Lunch at Maharani Bagh (Mango Orchard of the Maharaja of Jodhpur) near the Temples.
Day 10: Udaipur / Laxmi Vilas Palace (B)
Morning visit the Royal Palace and bazaars. Afternoon stroll around the old city; visit minature painting studios with guide.
Built around Lake Pichola, Udaipur is a quaint town with cobblestone streets, plentiful local bazaars, marble palaces, lakeside gardens, temples and havelis.
It is a traditionally planned, fortified city surrounded by walls and massive gates. The rulers, beginning with Maharana Singh in the mid 16th century, prided themselves on being independent from other, more powerful regional neighbors, particularly the Moghuls. Sunset private boat ride on Lake Pichola.
Day 11: Udaipur-Jaipur-Samode / Samode Palace
Fly to Jaipur. 9w373 Dep 07:40 hrs, arr 8:20 hrs. Drive to Samode Palace (40 min), an 18th century restored palace in the magnificent setting of a small quaint village. After lunch we will stroll the village and have a palace tour.Samode, according to the Rajputana Gazetteer of 1879, was a large and flourishing town. The Zamidars (landlords) of Samode, the principal thakurs of the state of Amber, were the Nathawat clan from Chomu, a branch of the house of Amber, tracing their relation to the Jaipur Maharaja – the fabled Prithviraj Singhji the 17th prince of the house of Kacchwaha Rajputs. Gopal Singhji, one of his 12 sons, was awarded Samode, a noble feudatory of the Amber & Jaipur principality. It was among the wealthiest territories in the Amber kingdom. The Zamidari eventually passed within the clan to the hands of Behari Das, a Rajput warrior in Mughal Service. After 6 generations in the hands of his descendants, Samode was relinquished to the Raj.
For the 1st half of its existence Samode Palace was a little more than a fortified stronghold in the rugged Rajput tradition. Only in the early 19th century under Rawal Berisal did the castle begin to take on the lavish aspects it is now known for. He was an eminent statesman who reached distinction as the principal signatory (on behalf of the Jaipur Maharaja) of the historic 1818 treaty making Jaipur a protectorate of the British East India Company. He later became Chief Minister of Jaipur and weilded absolute power.
The winner of the award for the best heritage hotel in the country for 5 consecutive years, the Palace has been meticulously restored, offering a retreat into an aesthetically beautiful environment where visitors can enjoy India’s natural beauty and rich history. Samode Palace, one of India’s most charming and romantic hotels, offers a quiet, elegant and luxurious atmosphere. Considered India’s finest hotel for its consummate standards of modern hospitality, accommodation, services, cuisine and amenities, it is the flagship of the Samode Hotels.
Day 12: Drive to Jaipur, 45 min / Samode Haveli (B)
Visit The Pink City of India, including the City Palace, Hawa Mahal (The Palace of Winds) and the Jantar Mantar Observatory. Overnight in Samode Haveli, a heritage hotel with elegantly furnished rooms.
Known as the Pink City, Jaipur was founded by Sawai Jai Singh II (1700-1743). It has 7 gates into the city–one for each of the 7 planets (which were the number of planets known at the time of the city’s founding). At the heart of Jaipur is its City Palace which houses an extensive collection of rare manuscripts, Mughal and Rajasthani miniatures, Mughal carpets, costumes and textiles, arms and weapons, royal buggies, chariots and palanquins and a remarkable carriage -the indiraviman – that was drawn by four elephants.
At the center is Chandra Mahal, the seven-tiered moon palace where the present Maharaja still resides. The City Palace complex also contains the Govind Devji Temple, dedicated to Lord Krishna. Just outside the gateway of the City Palace is Jantar Mantar, the Yantralaya of Sawai Jai Singh II, the last great classical astronomer in India. The modernistic structures known as Yantras are the unique creations of this astronomer-king, designed by him and built by experts to observe the movements of the sun, moon, planets and stars. This is the largest of five observatories founded by him in various parts of the country. Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds) is Jaipur’s most-photographed building, a honeycomb palace with 953 latticed windows overlooking the bazaar and busy streets of Jaipur. Built in 1799 by the poet-king Pratap Singh, this extraordinary building was used by purdah-bound women to watch the grand processions that were a regular feature of the city. Overnight accomodations at Samode Haveli.
Afternoon independent to relax, stroll, shop.
Day 13: Jaipur (B)
Morning excursion to Amber Fort. At one time the capital of the Kacchawa Rajputs before it was shifted to Jaipur, the rugged exterior belies a beautiful and delicate interior. We will approach the gates on elephant back.
Afternoon visit to Sanganer Town where we see the ancient hand tie-die technique called Bandhej as well as hand made paper factories. Afternoon visit to Bagru town, about 25 kms southeast of Jaipur. Bagru is famous for its block printing on textiles.
Tie and dye or Bandhej is a technique originating from Rajasthan and Gujarat. The colors traditionally are vibrant; yellow, black, red and green being the predominant ones. This technique is used on lighter shades of browns, turquoise, blue and pink giving a stunning effect. The technique thoughsimple is quite time consuming and tedious. A single piece of cloth, with intricate bandhej design, takes more than a week to prepare. In this process, each section is carefully dipped in paint and tied again to bring yet another contrast in color. Usually the women are assigned to the fine craft of tying while the men prepare the dye. Elaborate bandhej patterns depicting birds, animals and human figures are made through this long process. The tie and dye (bandhej) work is done on saris, salwar suits, kurtas and dress materials.
What makes Bagru unique is that it is one of the last generations of printers predominantly using traditional vegetable dyes. For example, the blues are often derived from indigo and the greens from a mixture of indigo and pomegranate rinds and yellows from the root of turmeric. The Chippa community who specialize in the block printing work settled in the area around Bagru and Sanganer and use blocks procured from the Khatis or carpenters of Jaipur, where traditional wood carvers make intricate traditional designs from blocks of teak wood as they have done for many generations. These blocks are used to print designs on fabrics, especially tablecloths and bedspreads.
Returning to the city we will visit the Johari Bazaar to watch the creation of the traditional Rajasthani Kundan and Minakari and terracotta clay jewelry as well as a visit to a goldsmith who makes simpler contemporary Indian designs. Kundankari is the art of carving from hard stones such as jade, rock crystal, agate, garnet and topaz to create fabulous pieces of jewelry. In this typically Indian technique, the gem stones are set within solid walls of gold.
Minakari was introduced in the early 16th century by Raja Maan Singh of Amber. Originally the art was used exclusively by the Mughals. Minakari work is the art of enameling on gold producing brilliant colored works of art including objects such as plates and goblets and jewelry. Terracotta jewelry is made from clay, colored and then glazed, like blue pottery.
Day 14: Jaipur-Fatehphur Sikri-Agra (250 kms / 5-6 hrs) / ITC Mughal (B,D)
Fatehpur (town of victory) Sikri was built by Akbar, the third and greatest of the Great Mughals. The town was erected after a holy man, Sheikh Salim Chisti, living in Sikri, decreed the births of three sons to Akbar after all his children had died in infancy. It is over 400 years old and yet perfectly preserved. There are three sections to the City: The Royal Palace (notable for the Emperor’s throne), outside the Royal Palace and the the Jami Masjid (the location of the Tomb of Sheikh Salim Chishti, a masterpiece in brilliant white marble). Hotel ITC Mughal Hotel.
Day 15: Agra – Delhi (200 kms / 4½ hrs) (B)
Agra is the home of the exquisite Taj Mahal and impressive Agra Fort. The traditional marble inlay work is incredible, the techniques of which continue to be passed down through the generations to ancestors of the workers who created the inlay for the Taj. The city alternated with Delhi as the capital of the Mughal Empire. Morning: we visit the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort; some independent time to visit artisans, shop or relax. Return drive to Delhi. Transfer to hotel near airport. Shared rooms for wash/change. Transfer to airport for flight home.