A Compass representative will receive you at the airport and assist you with your hotel transfer.
Delhi, India’s capital has seen great empires rise and fall around it for millennia, with each new batch of rulers building over the works of their predecessors. As a result, the city abounds in monuments and ruins of stunning diversity. The seat of the world’s largest democracy, it also boasts of magnificent symbols of government that pay architectural tribute to the ideals of self-rule and democracy. These co-exist side by side with wide multi-lane motorways, shopping malls, fast cars and ultramodern steel-glass office complexes that characterise any large 21st century metropolis.
Overnight at Delhi.
Raj Ghat is the famous memorial to Mahatma Gandhi. The shrine bears testimony to the simplicity of the man who changed the world with the power of ideas. A simple black stone structure with an eternal flame burning at one end.
The majestic Red Fort was commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in 1639, and remained seat of the empire for the next two centuries. Today, the Prime Minister of the India delivers his Independence Day speech to the nation from the ramparts of this red sandstone structure.
To truly experience the buzz of the old markets and narrow, winding medieval alleys of old Delhi, we recommend a rickshaw ride through the city. Your guide will be happy to arrange one for you.
Jama Masjid is one of Asia’s largest mosques. We shall view this magnificent structure from outside, its lofty and highly ornate domes and minarets reminiscent of a scene from the Arabian Nights.
Proceed to New Delhi.
New Delhi was built by the British in the 1930s as their imperial capital. Majestic government and administrative buildings line the wide, tree-lined avenues of what is also known as Lutyen’s Delhi after Sir Edwin Lutyens who was commissioned to design the city in 1911.
Start at India Gate, the red sandstone arch erected in memory of Indian and British soldiers who laid down their lives in World War I. Close by are the majestic Parliament House, the seat of the world’s largest democracy and the Rastrapathi Bhawan, the Indian President’s official residence. Inside are the famed Mughal Gardens with its ornate fountains and manicured lawns. Mughal Gardens are open to the public during spring.
Further south lies the Qutub Minar. Built by Qutubuddin Aibak, a slave general in 1193, it is India’s tallest stone tower and marks the site of the country’s first Muslim kingdom. The iron tower in a square opposite is unique in that it never rusts, although it has been exposed to the elements for centuries.
The stately Humanyun’s Tomb is perhaps the first example of the Mughal style of architecture, inspired by Persian styles, more examples of which may be seen in Agra and Fatehpur Sikri.
The structure was erected in memory of Emperor Humayun, father of the illustrious Emperor Akbar, by his widow Hamida Banu Begum. An avid scholar who died an untimely death after falling down the steps of his library, Humayun himself was an architecture enthusiast and well-versed in the Persian style of building. It is said that he himself drew up the blueprint of his tomb in his lifetime, but there is no documented evidence to that effect.
The lotus-shaped Bahai temple south of Delhi is also of interest. An ideal place for meditation, this Bahai House of worship is open to people of all faiths.
Overnight at Delhi.
Breakfast will be at the hotel.
Drive to Sikandra in a spacious, comfortable Compass approved vehicle.
A beautifully maintained tree-lined monument at Sikandra marks the grave of the illustrious Akbar the Great. A great believer in harmony and equality of all religions, this visionary Mughal Emperor created Din-i Ilahi, a unique religion that combines the fundamentals of Islam, Hindusim, Buddhism and Christianity. His memorial imbibes architectural motifs of all the faiths that inspired him.
Continue to Agra.
The Mughal capital of Agra on the banks of the Yamuna River is a bustling town teeming with narrow, winding alleyways that hark back to an era gone by. Dotted by magnificent monuments including UNESCO World Heritage SIte Taj Mahal, the city is a dazzling contrast of red sandstone and white marble structures.
Proceed for sightseeing.
Built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial to his queen Mumtaz Mahal and designed by Persian architect Ustad, the magnificent Taj Mahal is one of the seven wonders of the world. A massive white marble structure so delicate that it appears to float in the air, the Taj is otherworldly in its beauty and is best viewed in moonlight or at dawn and dusk. The close-up view reveals breathtakingly intricate inlay work carved into the marble, and bears eloquent testimony to the triump of Mughal art, culture and architecture at its peak. No holiday in India is complete without the Taj.
Standing across the river from the Taj, the majestic red sandstone structure of Agra Fort was erected in 1565 by Mughal Emperor Akbar the great. Little did he know that the same fort would later serve as prison for his grandson Emperor Shah Jahan in the end of his days. From his prison perch of Muamman Burj, an exquisite octagonal marble tower atop the fort, Shah Jahan would spend his last days looking out longingly at the Taj.
Agra Fort and Taj Mahal are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Itmad-ud-Daulah is perhaps the Mughal Empire’s best kept secret. Empress Nur Jehan, wife of Jehangir, son of Akbar, commissioned the structure as a memorial to her father. Mistakenly called Baby Taj, Itmad-ud-Daulah in fact is decades older than the Taj, and may have served as its design blueprint.
Overnight at Agra.
Breakfast will be at the hotel. Drive to Fatehpur Sikri.
Fatehpur Sikri, or the “City of Victory”, built by Emperor Akbar in 1569 in honour of sufi saint Salim Chishti was the capital of the Mughals for 14 years. The white marble Tomb of the Salim Chisti with its intricately carved marble screens occupies pride of place in the central courtyard of the structure.
Attractions include the colossal Buland Darwaza, a victory gate built to mark the conquest of by Emperor Akbar, the Diwan-i-Aam where the emperor held his legendary hearings with the general public and the Diwan-i-Khas where he held private consultation with his nine ministers, or as he called them, his navaratna or nine gems.
Fatehpur Sikri also houses the palace of Jodhabai, Akbar’s Hindu wife, and the house of the legendary Birbal - Akbar’s Hindu minister and one of the navaratnas - the tales of whose extraordinary wit and wisdom are the stuff of popular culture in India, inspiring countless comic books and children’s animation TV shows.
Fatehpur Sikri is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Continue to Jaipur.
Jaipur, also known as the ‘Pink City’ from the facelift it received in 1853 to celebrate a visit by Prince Albert, is dotted with havelis (traditional mansions), bazaars, opulent palaces and rugged majestic forts that showcase the glorious past of its rulers, the Rajputs.
The Rajput princes were fierce warriors some of whom declared loyalty to the invading Mughals and proved to be formidable allies of the empire. Among them was King Jai Singh II, whom the Mughals gave the title Sawai Maharaja, or “King and a quarter”. Jaipur gets its name from this valiant king.
Go for an evening visit to the Birla Temple. A stunning white marble structure, the three towers of the Birla Temple stand for three different approaches to religion. Carvings on the ornate pillars celebrate Hindu gods and goddesses along with Christ, Virgin Mary and St. Francis of Assissi. Don’t miss the hypnotic evening Aarti, the ritual lighting of oil lamps.
Overnight in Jaipur.
Proceed for a morning excursion to Amber Fort after breakfast. Elephant ride ascent to the fort.
Situated on the top of a hill, the magnificent Amber Fort Palace offers a panoramic view of the old city. Established in 1592, its rugged exteriors belie the delicate architecture inside, a rare fusion of traditional Rajasthani and Islamic styles. Reach the fort the old fashioned way, atop a ceremonial elephant along a cobbled path up that opens into several havelis, step wells, courtyards and temples. Visit Sheesh Mahal or chamber of mirrors, Jas Mandir with its ornate ceilings and latticework and the stunning Shila Devi temple with its intricately carved silver door.
Continue sightseeing in Jaipur.
The sprawling City Palace has been home to the rulers of Jaipur since the 18th century. The architecture of the palace is a blend of traditional Rajasthani and Mughal styles. The City palace Museum is located here and houses various items from Jaipur’s princely and warrior past.
The scientific-minded King Jai Singh II, an astronomy enthusiast, commissioned five observatories named Jantar Mantar around West Central India in the early 1700s. The one in Jaipur is the largest and the best preserved. The massive architectural instruments are constructed out of local stone and marble some of which are still in use. We shall walk through and explore this surreal maze of giant geometric objects.
The exquisite outer facade of Hawa Mahal, the "Palace of Winds," resembles a manmade honeycomb and is one of Jaipur’s most iconic and oft photographed sights. Designed to facilitate maximum air circulation and cross ventilation, the five-storied Hawa Mahal is made of lime and mortar, and decorated with impossible intricate trelliswork. From the privacy of its ornate jharokhas (traditional Rajasthani windows), the ladies of the court could gaze out at life in the streets below.
This afternoon is free for you to relax shop or explore independently. Jaipur is famous for its shopping, particularly gold and silver jewellery, blue pottery, tie-dye materials, silk, saris, wooden handicrafts and carpets.
Overnight at Jaipur.
After breakfast, take the early morning flight to Delhi and catch the connector to Varanasi.
The ancient city of Varanasi on the west bank of the holy Ganga has been a spiritual center for Hinduism since the dawn of time. Varanasi’s high ghats (steps leading to and from the river) are crowded with priests, wrestlers, astrologers, devotees, bathers, morning walkers and saffron clad mendicants or sadhus. The ringing of temple bells and the heady, heavy smell of incense permeate everywhere. In Varanasi, even a short walk or a simple boat-ride is an unforgettable adventure.
The cinematic nature of daily life in Varanasi is not lost on filmmakers and over the years, many have made Varanasi their backdrop, among them maestros like Roberto Rossellini, James Ivory and Satyajit Ray. Fittingly, the first moving picture ever shot on Indian soil was filmed here in 1899. Varanasi is one of the unforgettable highlights of your luxury holiday in the timeless Indian subcontinent.
Watch the evening aarti (or offering of lights) at the ghats of Varanasi. Your guide will be at hand to explain the proceedings and the significance of the Vedic hymns recited by the priests. An unforgettable experience.
Overnight at Varanasi.
Go for an early morning boat ride along the middle of the river to watch the spiritual life of Hindu India unfold before you along the banks. Visit Dashashwamedh and Manikarnika, the holiest of the Varanasi ghats. A section of Manikarnika serves as a cremation ground and it is said the funeral pyre never dies here.
As the day progresses, devotees gather at the ghats and in the water, bathing, praying and taking “holy dips.”
Afterwards visit the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Kashi Vishwanath with its famous solid gold spire is one of the holiest of Hindu temples and devotees believe that praying here after a dip in the Ganges will grant them Moksha or liberation from the eternal cycle of life, death and rebirth.
Return to hotel for breakfast.
Proceed for day guided tour of Varanasi starting with the Bharat Mata Temple, where the principle deity is a relief map of India engraved in marble.
Later, visit the 18th century Durga Temple. According to legend, the idol of the goddess simply appeared in the spot where the temple stands today.
The white marble Tulsi Manas Temple has scenes and stanzas from the Hindi epic Ram Charit Manas engraved upon its walls. The temple is in the traditional Shikhara style, its towers representing the great Himalayan summits or shikharas.
Up next, the 4000 acre Benaras Hindu University campus houses an art gallery and the Mosque of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.
Proceed to Sarnath.
A short drive from Varanasi, lies Sarnath where, millennia ago, the Buddha delivered his first ever sermon. Today, thousands of travellers from all over the world pour in every year to pay homage to what is one of the holiest places in Asia. The 1600 year old Dhamekh stupa marks the spot where the Buddha sat as he delivered his first teachings. Interestingly, this ancient stupa is a stand in for an even earlier structure erected by Emperor Asoka in 249 BC to commemorate the teaching.
The highly recommended Sarnath museum houses antiquities dating back to the 3rd century BC. Don’t miss the gigantic red sandstone standing Bodhisatvas and the magnificent Asokan pillar that is India’s state symbol.
Overnight at Varanasi.
Breakfast will be served at the hotel. Proceed to Bodhgaya. The hotel will pack lunch for the road as there are no places en route to stop for meals.
Bodhgaya is sacred for Buddhists as well as Hindus. Here, under the famed Bodhi Tree, Prince Siddhartha attained supreme knowledge to become Buddha, the `Enlighted One'. This is the area where the Buddha lived most of his life and imparted his teachings. The name of the state, Bihar, is thus derived from the Sanskrit Vihara, meaning monastery. A few centuries after Buddha’s passing, the Maurya emperor Ashoka (234-198 BC) undertook the revival, consolidation and dissemination of Buddism. Ashoka’s monasteries and monuments dedicated to the teachings of the Buddha are intact to this day.
The magnificent Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya dates back to the Gupta era and records exist of scholarly visits from students, monks, pilgrims and philosophers alike from Sri Lanka, Myanmar and China between the 7th and 10th century AD. The temple also finds mention in the works of Chinese explorer Hiuen Tsang who visited in the 7th Century.
Overnight at Bodhgaya.
Breakfast will be served at the hotel. Proceed for sightseeing to the Maha Bodhi Temple and the Bodhi Tree. Visit the Chinese Temple. In the afternoon, visit the Niranjana Temple and river. Visit the School of the Destitute.
All meals will be served at the hotel. Overnight at Bodhgaya.
After breakfast, drive to the historic town of Nalanda.
Nalanda is the site of what could well be the world’s oldest residential university. Archeological evidence suggests that the complex was established around the 6th Century in the Gupta era. Nalanda grew and flourished till the 9th century during which it became the world’s largest and most comprehensive centre for Buddhist learning. Then came four centuries of decay and dissolution that culminated in a devastating Turkish invasion in the course of which the complex was razed to the ground and its wealth of manuscripts and books put to flame. According to certain historical records, Nalanda in its heydays was home to over 10,000 Buddhist scholars and over two thousand teachers. Its repository of books and manuscripts were housed in massive library buildings some of which were over 9 stories tall. Chinese explorer and emissary Hiuen Tsang who visited India in the 7th Century has written extensively about the austere disciplined life of the scholars of Nalanda and their single-minded pursuit of knowledge and truth.
Excavated ruins give one an idea of the grand scale of this ancient center for learning. Remains of eleven monasteries and six temples have been found, the structures arranged in a highly geometric and symmetrical fashion. The monasteries have well-planned living quarters, kitchens, secret chambers for valuables, meeting and prayer halls, granaries and so on. Large numbers of sculptures, images, murals, coins, seals, inscriptions and plaques have been unearthed some of which are on display at the Nalanda Museum.
Proceed to Rajgir. Archeological evidence suggests that the history of Rajgir (likely a corruption of Rajgriha or The House of the King) goes as far back as 1000 BC. Holy to Hindus, Jains and Buddhists alike, this settlement hidden in a gap between seven hills served as home to both the Buddha and Mahavira, the founder of the Jain faith. Mahavira lived here for fourteen years, splitting up his time between Rajgir and Nalanda. The Buddha delivered some of his most important sermons here, meditating and preaching on the Gridhkuta (or Vulture’s Hill) overlooking the city.
It was here that Hindu King Bimbisara was first exposed to the Buddha’s teachings. Profoundly moved, he converted to Buddhism and became perhaps the most important ally and patron of the faith during Buddha’s lifetime. The cave of Saptparni on one of the adjoining hills was the site of the first Buddhist Council. The same cave is also the location for Rajgir’s famed hot water spring that is supposed to have miraculous medicinal and curative properties.
Rajgir is not much more than a village today, but ancient ruins, in particular the high walls surrounding the town, give ample indication of its former glory.
Continue to Patna.
What Delhi was to medieval times, Patna, the capital city of Bihar, was to ancient India. Patna’s history goes back over two thousand years when, as Pataliputra, it became the capital of Magadh and seat of the mighty Maurya Empire that played a pivotal role in shaping the history of Hindu and Buddhist India. Like Delhi, Patna changed many hands over time, passing from Nandas to the Mauryas to the Guptas and so on, until it acceded to the Sultanate in the 12th Century.
Drive to Vaishali after breakfast.
The ancient city of Vaishali was among the world’s oldest republics and references to it date back two millennia. The founder of the Jain faith, Mahavira, was born here circa 600 BC. The Buddha visited often in his lifetime and delivered his very last sermon here.
Notable Buddhist sites in Vaishali include the Relic Stupa reputed to contain the ashes of the Buddha himself, the Kutagrashala Vihara where he resided during his visits and the Japanese built International Peace Pagoda. The Kutagrashala Vihara has the world’s last completely intact Asokan Pillar, a highly ornate column erected by Emperor Asoka 2000 years ago to commemorate the Buddha’s teachings.
Proceed to Kushinagar. Surrounded by forests, Kushinagar was lost to the world until archeologists rediscovered it in the 19th century. The Buddha is believed to have breathed his last in this the small, serene hamlet. The land is venerated as the site of the Buddha's Mahaparinirvana, his final liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth.
Kushinagar is now growing in importance as a Buddhist centre and houses the modern Indo-Japan-Srilanka Buddhist centre, a Tibetan Gompa devoted to Shakyamuni, a Burmese vihara, and temples built by devotees from China and Japan.
Overnight at Kushinagar.
Proceed after breakfast to Kapilavastu.
Kapilavastu was the kingdom where Prince Siddhartha spent the first 29 years of his life and eventually renounced in his quest for Buddhahood. The site was lost for millennia until a 1970s excavation unearthed a stupa with an inscription dating back to the Kushan period (early first century) identifying the kingdom. Along with the stupa was unearthed a walled structure that is believed to have been the palace where Buddha spent his childhood.
Proceed to Lumbini.
The birthplace of the Gautama Buddha, Lumbini, is the Mecca of every Buddhist, being one of the four holy places of Buddhism. Buddha himself identified four places of future pilgrimage: the sites of his birth, enlightenment, first discourse, and death. The Bodhi tree where Siddhartha was born is difficult to locate now. But Emperor Ashoka, in the 21st year of his reign visited the forest and raised a pillar to mark the holy spot.
The Mayadevi Temple: This Mayadevi temple dedicated to the mother of the Buddha has been excavated and restored. The temple has a stone artifact depicting the nativity of the Buddha. Maya Devi, his mother, gave birth to the child on her way to her parent's home in Devadaha while taking rest in Lumbini under a Sal tree in the month of May in the year 642 BC. The beauty of Lumbini is described in Pali and Sanskrit literature. Maya Devi- it is said was spellbound to see the natural splendor of Lumbini. While she was standing, she felt labor pains and caught hold of a drooping branch of a Bodhi tree, a pose immortalized by countless sculptures and paintings.
Surrounded by a garden that replicates the one in which the birth took place, Lumbini is dotted with stupas and monasteries built by devotees from China, Korea, Japan, Myanmar and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Overnight at Lumbini.
Drive to Shravasti after breakfast.
During the time of the Buddha, a rich and pious merchant named Sudatta lived in Sravasti. While on a visit to Rajgir, he heard the Buddha's sermon and decided to become the Lord's disciple. But he was caught in a dilemma and asked the Lord whether he could become a follower without forsaking worldly life. To his query, the Buddha replied that it was enough that he followed his vocation in a righteous manner.
Sudatta invited the Buddha to Shravasti and began to look for a suitable place to build a vihara. A beautiful park at the southern edge of Shravasti attracted his attention. The park belonged to Jeta, son of King Prasenjit of Shravasti. Jeta demanded that Sudatta cover the entire park with gold coins. Sudatta painstakingly paved every inch of the land with gold. Then Jeta said that since the trees were left uncovered they belonged to him. But finally, he had a change of heart and donated valuable wood to build the viharas. The park came to be known as Jetavana Vihara in recognition of Prince Jeta's donation to the sangh.
Buddha spent 25 years living in the monastery of Jetavana. Many Vinaya rules, Jatakas and Sutras were first discussed at this place. The Buddha is supposed to have astonished rival teachers by performing miracles at Shravasti. It is said that it was in Shravasti that the Buddha transformed the dreaded Angulimal from a dacoit into a Buddhist monk. He also delivered many important sermons here. King Ashoka erected two pillars 21 meters high on either side of the eastern gateway of the Jetavana monastery. Shravasti was a flourishing center of learning during the Gupta period. When the famed Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang visited this site, he found several damaged stupas and ruins of monasteries and a palace.
Shravasti has two villages, Sahet and Mahet. From the Balrampur-Shravasti road one can enter Sahet, which is spread over an area of 400 acres and has a number of ruins. A little north of Sahet, towards the Rapti River, is the ancient fortified city of Mahet. The entrance to the mud fortification of Mahet is constructed in a beautiful crescent shape. Though it is an ancient structure, its five gates and walls are still visible. Pakki Kuti, Kuchhi Kuti and many other stupas tell the story of the great monasteries that once stood here.
Jetavana, a splendid monastery with inscriptions dating back to the 12th century, is thought to be one of the favorite sites of the Buddha. Emperor Ashoka is also said to have visited this site. There is a sacred pipal tree here, which is a sapling from the original Maha Bodhi tree under which the Buddha had attained nirvana. Today, Jetavana has two monasteries, six temples and five stupas. One temple was built by the monk Ananthapindika and called Gandhakuti. This is the most sacred temple in Jetavana since the Buddha is believed to have lived at this spot.
Shravasti was also under the influence of Lord Mahavira the last Jain Tirthankaras, and the splendid Shwetambara temple here attracts thousands of Jain pilgrims. The Sobhnath Temple is believed to the birthplace of the Jain Tirthankaras Sambhavnathji.
Overnight at Shravasti.
After breakfast drive to Lucknow. Lucknow is an in-between land of the past and the present looking back constantly to the memories of a Nawabi past. The welding of various cultural strains nurtured by centuries of Mughal and later Delhi Sultanate rule, to the folk traditions of the Indo-Gangetic plains has produced a complex, yet rich synthesis. The Urdu language acquired its baffling phonetic nuances and suave perfection here. It was in Nawab Wajed Ali Shah's court that the most advanced of all classical Indian dance forms, the Kathak, took shape. The popular Parsi theatre originated from the Urdu theatre of this city. The tabla and the sitar were first heard on the streets of Lucknow. Proceed for the sightseeing. The Bara Imambara built by Asaf-ud-Daula for famine relief, is one of the largest in the world. There are excellent views of Lucknow from the top of the Imambara. An external stairway leads to an upper floor laid out as an amazing labyrinth known as the Bhulbulaiya. The dark passages stop abruptly at openings which drop straight to the courtyard below. It is said that the Nawab would, in lighter moments, play hide and seek with his wives in the maze. The grand ornate 60-feet-high Rumi Darwaza gate was also built by Asaf-ud-Daula and serves as the entrance to the Bara Imambara. Hussainabad or Chota Imambara was built by Mohammed Ali Shah in 1837 as his own mausoleum. The glittering brass-domes and ornate architecture of this building led a Russian Prince to call it the "Kremlin of India." Famous for its exquisite Belgian glass chandeliers, it contains the tombs of Ali Shah and his mother. A small bazaar, known as the Gelo Khana or "Decorated Place", lies inside the imposing entrance of the Imambara. in 1881 by the British, the 67 m-high clock tower on the river Gomti is said to the tallest clock tower in India. The parts of the clock are built of pure gunmetal and the pendulum hangs 14 feet. The dial of this clock is shaped like a 12-petalled flower and is decorated with bells. The Shah Najaf Imambara holds the tombs of Ghasi-ud-Din Haidar and his two wives. Situated on the south bank of Gomti towards the west of Sikandar Bagh, the building is almost an exact replica of the tomb of Hazrat Ali, the son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad, at Najaf Ashraf in Iraq. The interior is used to store chandeliers, and elaborate artifacts of wood, bamboo and silver paper which are paraded through the streets during the Muharram Festival. Built in 1800 by Saadat Ali Khan for the British Resident, the Residency Building became the stage for the most dramatic events of the Siege of Lucknow during the 1857 mutiny. There are marks on the outer walls where cannonballs landed and a cemetery with graves of the dead. The Residency Museum is worth a visit. The two Chattar Manzils on the banks of the Gomti were royal pavilions. The name comes from the gilted chattars or umbrellas atop the two main buildings. The Greater Chattar Manzil was once a king's palace. Under the existing river terrace was the ground floor with the tykhanas (cool underground rooms), cooled by the waters of the Gomti lapping against its outer walls. Today this building houses the Central Medicine Research body. Overnight at Lucknow.
Breakfast will be at the hotel. You are free to spend the morning at your own pace. Later, the Compass team will drive you to the airport for your flight home.